As I passed through the lush and relatively low Cascade Mountain Range (average elev. of about 9,000 ft.), a steady rain started coming down giving Ol’ Blue a much-needed bath. Why should I not be surprised with a drenching downpour in the corner of the country where the annual rainfall was around 55 inches, second only to Louisiana. I stopped for gas in Anacortes, which was nestled next to a myriad of bays, straits, and islands about 70 miles north of Seattle. I was as far north and west as I was going to travel, a sort of turning around point. I had just negotiated about 300 miles of two-lane highway across Washington State, so I was due for a stretch of Interstate. I took I-5 south to Seattle where I checked in at the Black Angus Motel. I called cousin Paul (Mom’s nephew) hoping to see him, but he was just going out the door to take a lady friend sailing up to the San Juan Islands. I said, “Paul, I’ve driven 4,000 miles so far seeing old high school classmates along the way.” He replied, “Cuz, I really envy you. I wish I could take a trip like that. Next time, call ahead.”
I took that advice to heart, but not real seriously. You see, my modus operandi before any trip was not to call or write ahead with a tongue-in-cheek rationale that if I gave an advanced warning of my arrival, it would give them time to get out of town. It had worked so far, but with Paul I had struck out. So be it. We had seen each other twice in the early 1980s, once in Portland, Oregon where he was living, and again on his visit to my home in Denver. All alone now, I sat out on the covered front porch of my room, enjoying the cool night and softly falling rain. I couldn’t help but again reflect on what a glorious time it had been with Kay, Jimmer, and their mountain friends. As I had told them, I felt very privileged to be in their company. I got a little misty-eyed thinking about it. As I lay in bed, I was sort of wishing that I was reclining in Ol’Blue, listening to the somnolent rain pelting down on the roof.
A slight drizzle was falling as I checked out of the Black Angus. I was enjoying all the precipitation, but enough was enough. I was ready to get out of town and dry out, so I headed east on I-90 and once I passed through the Wenatchee National Forest, I figured the soaking weather was behind me. The north-to-south mountain ranges literally divided the state into two distinctive regions – the rain forests of the northwest and the semi-arid farmlands of the southeast.
At Ellensburg, I merged with southeast bound I-82, which paralleled the salmon-choked Columbia River. I stopped in Yakima to call Tom Grow, another high school classmate, but got no answer. At the reunion, he had mentioned he was a practicing surgeon and had recently been divorced. Just out of curiosity, I looked up his address and found his house in a very respectable neighborhood. However, Mr. Grow’s abode appeared as a misfit with an unkempt exterior and an over-grown, weed-infested front yard. I parked in front and walked up to the house to peer in the window. I was somewhat shocked to see a very disheveled interior, which completely belied the fact that Tom was in a profession that was the quintessence of cleanliness. I figured that was what being a former married man could do to a guy. I left a note on the door reading: “Sorry I missed you. I couldn’t expect you to be waiting for me on the front porch.” That was what I would call a vicarious visitation.
I crossed the state line into Oregon and pulled off at an inviting scenic overlook. To the northwest in Washington I could see green apple orchards, and to the south in Oregon there were fields of golden grain. I thought it was rather curious that I could visibly discern where one state began and the other ended. It was not an uncommon feature between western states, although most were not as distinct as the one I had just seen. Predominately, it was the subtle, yet perceptible, change in the terrain that made the transition from state to state a visible reality. Nowhere was it more evident than at the state lines between Colorado and Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico.
Another peculiarity of the west was the manner in which towns were strategically situated in geological “bowls” next to a river with a protective mesa to the north shielding themselves from the wintry winds swooping down out of Canada. I had noticed that phenomenon in Bismarck, Pierre, Yakima, and Billings, Montana (on an earlier trip in 1980). I stopped in Pendleton for gas, which incidentally was also nestled in a valley next to a butte. Before I could get out, an attendant greeted me with a, “Can I fill her up?” As he was pumping away, I got out and said, “Your station has no self or full service signs. What gives?” He replied, “Oregon passed a law requiring all gas attendants to pump gas. Somehow, it’s supposed to increase employment in the state.” Uumm, that sounded rather nebulous. He noted that I looked very tired (I had been driving for about eleven hours) and suggested I find a parking space at the City Park where I could spend the night. I heeded his advice and directions to the letter, and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
After a quickie breakfast at the Golden Arches, I decided it was time to get off the Interstate, and headed south on U.S. 395, one of the most enjoyable north-south highways to drive in the country (in California, it traverses along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Range). I passed through the Umatilla National Forest where I counted at least a half dozen flatbed trucks hauling huge timbers. Obviously, the logging industry was Oregon’s prime resource. I made a pass at John Day and continued south out of the logging forests into a wide-open terrain of mesas and valleys – quite a disparity in landscapes. The towns were few and far between in the “outback” of southwest Oregon with the small burg of Burns (pop. 3817) being the only major stop along the way. The desolation was only comparable to what I had previously seen in Wyoming.
I stopped in Lakeview for gas (still barely over a dollar a gallon) just shy of the state line. I calculated that I had just driven 335 miles across Oregon on a beautiful two-lane highway. I felt very pleased with the way I had been alternating my routes between Interstates, and national and state highways, with the latter accounting for about four-fifths of the mileage. It had been a good trade-off so far. Not far down the road, I encountered California’s version of Checkpoint Charlie. I felt like I was entering a foreign country, but in essence, it was an entry station for screening what agricultural products were being “imported” into the Golden State. An official asked me, “You got any fruits or vegetables?” I replied, “Yeah, some bananas and grapes I bought up in John Day.” That was all there was to it as he waved me on through. It was getting close to dark and it been another long day of driving (almost 500 miles), so when I spotted a roadside picnic area, I jumped on it like a chicken on a June bug. Like the night before, I was asleep before I knew it.